SCARBOROUGH—Two teams with nearly no separation produced a Class A state semifinal round match for the ages Wednesday evening at Alumni Gymnasium.

Second-ranked Scarborough hosted third-seeded Gorham in front of a raucous crowd, with a trip to the state final at stake and every point was a struggle.

The first game set the tone, as on 19 different occasions, the score was deadlocked. The Red Storm twice held set point, but couldn’t convert and the Rams got the jump, 28-26.

Scarborough settled down in the second game and behind terrific passing from senior Bella Dickinson and junior Mayne Gwyer, as well as the serving and power of sophomore Maddie Strouse, evened the match with a 25-20 victory.

When the Red Storm rolled to a 25-10 win in the third set, opening up an 18-3 lead at one juncture, it appeared they were on the verge of advancing, but Gorham responded in the fourth game behind the pinpoint passing of senior setter Ursa Steiner, who had 17 assists in that set alone, and prevailed, 25-22.

That sent the match to a first-team-to-15-points, winner-take-all fifth set, where Scarborough, which was eliminated by the Rams in last year’s semifinal round, wouldn’t be denied.

The Red Storm never trailed in the fifth game and when Strouse produced back-to-back kills, they won it, 15-11, and survived and advanced with a 3-2 match victory.

Scarborough got heroic efforts from several different players, improved to 14-2, ended Gorham’s better-than-expected campaign at 12-4 and most importantly of all, advanced to take on top-ranked, defending state champion Falmouth (16-0) in the Class A state final Friday at 6 p.m., at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.

“It was really nice to be able to turn (last year’s) result around and be able to take it, especially at home in front of an amazing crowd,” said Red Storm coach Kim Stoddard. “It was great volleyball. It was exhausting for me and I’m not the one running around on the court, but these kids are tough. They had to fight in the biggest game of our season.”

Sweet revenge

Last fall, in the Class A state semifinals, Gorham eliminated Scarborough in four close games (25-22, 25-18, 23-25, 25-23). The Rams went on to lose to Falmouth in the state final in straight-sets.

This season, both squads are chasing the Yachtsmen again and both have been very good.

Scarborough started with 3-0 wins at Bonny Eagle and at home against Cheverus. After surviving host Gorham in five-games, the Red Storm downed visiting Windham in four sets, rallied from a 2-0 deficit for a five-set victory at Cape Elizabeth, then blanked visiting Portland and Marshwood. After a four-set home loss to Falmouth, Scarborough lost at defending Class B champion Yarmouth in five-games, but the Red Storm closed the regular season on a five-game surge, blanking visiting Massabesic and Biddeford, beating host South Portland in three-games, then defeating host Kennebunk and visiting Deering by 3-1 scores.

Saturday, in the quarterfinals, Scarborough ousted No. 7 Biddeford in straight sets (25-13, 25-19, 25-9).

Gorham, meanwhile, started by blanking host Kennebunk, outlasting visiting South Portland in five-sets, and winning in three games at Thornton Academy. After dropping a five-set home decision to Scarborough, the Rams defeated host Biddeford (3-0), visiting Windham (3-1), host Cheverus (3-0) and visiting Brunswick/Mt. Ararat (3-0). Gorham lost in four-games at Falmouth, then blanked visiting Bonny Eagle and Deering, lost at home in five-games to Cape Elizabeth and closed by sweeping host Portland and Marshwood.

In their quarterfinal Saturday, the Rams made quick work of No. 6 Thornton Academy in three sets.

In addition to a five-set battle which Scarborough won back on Sept. 17, the teams had split four prior playoff encounters, with the Rams’ victory in last year the most recent.

Wednesday, Gorham pushed the Red Storm to the brink, but this autumn, Scarborough wouldn’t be denied, as it moved on to the big stage.

Barely.

Often in big matches, teams take awhile to settle in and get comfortable, but the first set featured clutch play from both squads and needed 27 minutes and several extra points to decide.

In fact, the first point featured multiple returns by each team before the Red Storm went up, 1-0. A kill from Rams’ senior Haley Burns tied it and little changed from there.

Scarborough grabbed a 4-1 lead on a pair of Strouse kills and an ace from junior Shaelyn Thornton, but Gorham scored the next three points, punctuated by an ace from junior Maddy Berry to tie again.

The game would be deadlocked at 5-5, 7-7 (on an ace from Rams’ sophomore Ellie Perry), 8-8 (on a kill from Gorham senior Caralin Mills), 9-9, 10-10 (on a block from Berry), 11-11, 12-12 (on a Thornton kill), 14-14, 15-15 (on a Berry kill), 16-16, 18-18 (on a Thornton kill), 19-19 (on a Mills kill) and 20-20.

Gorham then got a pair of aces from Burns and another point to go up, 23-20, but back roared the Red Storm, as Thornton had a kill, Strouse had a kill and after Rams’ coach Emma Tirrell (a former Scarborough standout player) called timeout, Strouse had a kill and the visitors hit the ball out, giving the host team set point. A service fault kept Gorham alive and after a block from Berry, the Rams were on the brink of victory. The Red Storm answered, as after the Rams hit the ball into the net after a long volley, Gwyer snuck the ball over the net instead of setting it and again, Scarborough needed one point to take the set.

Again, it didn’t happen, as Ellie Perry’s kill tied it and after Berry served an ace, the Red Storm couldn’t return the ball and Gorham had a 28-26 victory.

And the fun was just beginning.

In that marathon first set, Berry had five service points and a pair of blocks, while Steiner added seven assists, which helped overcome seven service points from Gwyer and Strouse’s five kills.

Scarborough wasn’t fazed, however, and came right back to even the match.

The second set was tied just three times, 1-1, 2-2 and 4-4, before a kill from Strouse put the Red Storm on top for good. Scarborough couldn’t pull away until a pair of kills from senior Meredith Winslow and another from senior Maya Brooks stretched the lead to 18-12. The Rams pulled within 21-18 on a kill from senior Meg Perry, but sophomore Gwen Dorsey had a kill for the hosts, Strouse added another after a long point and after Meg Perry got a point back for Gorham with a kill, a Strouse kill set up set point. The Rams got a point back, but this time, the Red Storm got the next point to finish it off and win, 25-20.

In the second game, Dickinson had seven assists, Gwyer added five assists and Strouse had six kills and five service points, which helped neutralize the effect of Steiner’s nine assists and Meg Perry’s six kills.

Scarborough had an even easier time of it in the third set, as it excelled in all phases.

Gorham got the first point, on a kill from Burns, but Strouse tied it with a kill, then Thornton stepped to the service line and she served eight straight points to give the Red Storm an insurmountable lead. Thornton served just one ace during the run, but a kill and a block from Strouse served as highlights. After the Rams drew back within 10-3, Brooks had a kill, then sophomore Mya Jones took over at the service line. She would serve seven points in a row, including a pair of aces, and Brooks had four kills, to help make it an 18-3 contest. Gorham was far more competitive the rest of the game, but never got closer than 13 and two kills from Thornton and a failed return by the Rams gave Scarborough a 25-10 victory and a 2-1 lead in the match.

In that third set, Thornton had eight service points, Jones added seven service points and four assists, Gwyer had eight assists and Brooks contributed eight kills.

Gorham refused to roll over and returned to form to take the fourth set.

A Strouse kill and Gwyer ace gave the Red Storm an early lead and an ace from Jones and a Brooks kill made it 7-3, but the Rams rallied to take a 10-8 lead behind kills from Berry and Mills. Scarborough tied things up, 12-12, on a kill from Strouse, then got a kill from Brooks to retake the lead, but a block from senior Gianna Romatis and an ace from Meg Perry put Gorham back in front. The Red Storm again rallied and went up, 18-17, after a block from Dorsey and an ace from Brooks, but Mills tied it with a kill and junior Skylar Prince’s kill put the Rams in front again. Gorham took a 21-18 lead, but Scarborough again answered, tying it at 22-22, but a kill from Meg Perry, a soft kill from Ellie Perry and a traditional kill from Meg Perry gave the Rams a 25-22 victory and the match would have to go the distance.

In the fourth game, Gorham’s passing brilliance was on display, as Steiner registered a whopping 17 assists and Mills had nine kills.

The decisive fifth set would be one of high drama and one that the Red Storm refused to let slip away.

After the teams traded points by hitting the ball out, Gwyer hit the ball over the net instead of setting it for a 2-1 Scarborough lead. The Rams then failed to get the ball over and Strouse had a kill for a 4-1 advantage, which forced Tirrell to call timeout.

After splitting points, Meg Perry had a kill and an ace to cut the deficit to 5-4. The Red Storm got the next point, but Mills countered with a kill and Scarborough hit the ball out to tie it, 6-6.

Gorham couldn’t take the lead, however, hitting the ball out, and that started a 5-0 run for the hosts, which was capped by kills from senior Anna Gardner and Thornton for an 11-6 advantage.

The Rams made a run, getting consecutive kills from Mills and an ace from senior Talia Catoggio, which skipped off the top of the net, but after Stoddard called timeout, Scarborough got a kill from Thornton to take a 12-9 lead. Mills answered with a kill and Prince snuck the ball over the net to cut the deficit to one.

That proved to be Gorham’s final point, however, as after a service fault and a Strouse kill, Gwyer served the ball over, the Rams returned it and Gwyer set Strouse up for a kill, which at 8:06 p.m., brought the two-plus hour match to an end with the Red Storm taking game five, 15-11, and advancing, three sets to two.

“I couldn’t verbalize how happy I was when I saw (Maddie) go up for the kill and I knew it was going in,” Brooks said.

“Last year when we lost to (Gorham), it was devastating, so this win is so good,” Strouse said. “We’ve worked really hard to connect on the court and tonight, that paid off. The whole team just played together so well. We thrive under pressure. I couldn’t be happier.”

“There was so much intensity for us,” Brooks said. “We were really excited to win it. We prepared certain things we knew we’d see from them. We worked on fixing the holes in our defense and playing strong on offense. I wasn’t ready to be done, so I gave everything I could possible give. I thought it was our time to shine. We wanted to prove to everyone what Scarborough volleyball is all about.”

“Gorham is a phenomenal team, probably the best serving team we’ve faced, so I knew we couldn’t let up,” Stoddard added. “When they started earning points and taking big points, we weren’t afraid. We knew they’d score, but it was a game to 15 and we stuck together no matter what. Most of these kids have played in big games, like the semifinals last year, but to stay together this year and fight was huge.”

Gwyer had 28 assists and 10 service points for the victors.

Strouse had 19 kills, seven service points and four blocks.

Thornton finished with 17 service points and eight kills, Jones had 13 service points, Brooks 16 kills and nine service points, Dickinson 10 assists, Winslow four kills and Dorsey four kills and three blocks.

Gorham got a sensational 43 assists from Steiner and 20 kills from Mills.

Meg Perry had 14 kills and five service points, Ellie Perry seven kills and four service points, Catoggio seven service points and Berry six service points and three blocks.

“We just never could catch up,” Tirrell said. “That was the difference. We made a couple errors and they kept the ball off the ground in the fifth set. We were neck-and-neck with Scarborough. It could have gone either way. They earned it tonight.

“I’m so proud of the girls. Everybody said it would be a rebuilding year for us, but our girls are amazing. We surprised people and surprised ourselves. We showed how good we can be.

“I gave up playing volleyball in college to take this position, but I knew the kids were worth it and I’m proud that we compete every year. We’ll be hungry again going into next season.”

Monumental challenge

Falmouth was the preseason favorite and has done nothing to dispel its claim as the team to beat, losing just six games in 16 matches (regular and postseason to date). The Yachtsmen dropped the first set in their semifinal Wednesday at home versus No. 4 Windham before roaring back to take the next three.

Scarborough did take a set off the visiting Yachtsmen Oct. 3. The Red Storm are 0-2 all-time versus Falmouth in the playoffs with a 3-1 setback in the 2013 state final the most recent.

Scarborough will be a decided underdog Friday, but the Red Storm believe that they can shock the world.

“I think this will carry us over,” Brooks said. “We’ll work so hard in tomorrow’s practice to get ready.”

“I’m so excited to go states,” Strouse said. “It’s amazing. Falmouth’s a really good team with strong hitters. We have to work really hard. We’ll have to play strong defense and get our offense going to be the best team we can be.”

“I don’t think there’s any magical secret to winning against (Falmouth),” Stoddard added. “We have to serve tough, be relentless on defense and when they score, it’s focusing on what we do next.

“I say this every year, but this is my favorite group. Such a great group of kids. They’re really my team this year and it’s been really nice. We get one more practice and game together.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Comments are not available on this story.